Palestinians Escalate Violence After Sharon's Election
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon may have been elected on promises to restore security to Israelis, but Palestinian militants have only stepped up their violent campaign in recent days.
As Sharon pushed ahead Monday with efforts to build a national unity government, Israelis were digesting news of the first terrorist fatality since the election - that of an Israeli motorist shot dead by Arab gunmen near PA-controlled Bethlehem.
Assailants also opened fire from PA areas on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo for the first time in more than a month. Several Jewish communities in the disputed territories came under fire overnight and two roadside bombs were detonated in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Violent protests at the weekend saw 10 Palestinians hurt.
Bethlehem-based militants from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction vowed on Monday to continue attacking Jewish communities until there were none left. A statement in the Arabic Jerusalem newspaper Al-Quds also warned that any Israeli journalists going to Bethlehem would not come out alive.
Responding to the shooting death of Israeli Tzahi Sasson, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak said it was clear "terror does not distinguish between one Israeli government and another."
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz said there had been a "serious increase" in violence over the last few days, although the army did not see "any real correlation" between the upsurge and the elections.
Sharon, who won a landslide victory pledging to restore security to Israelis, has asked Barak to be Defense Minister in a unity government.
Although Barak said election night he was resigning as head of the Labor Party and lawmaker, party officials said on Monday he had not submitted his resignation and was still in charge. He also reversed the decision to resign from the Knesset.
Analysts say the formation of a unity coalition could go a long way to allaying international fears that Sharon, a former army general, will start a war.
Sharon pledged to continue the peace process, but said he would not give the PA close to what Barak offered - an offer which was refused as insufficient. He also said he will not divide Jerusalem, nor turn over sovereignty on the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, hotly contested by Muslims.
Former President Clinton praised Sharon over the weekend for trying to form a unity government. In his first speaking engagement open to the media since leaving office, Clinton told a Florida synagogue meeting he did not think Israeli voters had rejected peace when they elected Sharon.
"I don't think it's fair to say they rejected the idea of peace or the idea that there ought to be a peace process," Clinton said. "They affirmed the idea that security should precede peace and that peace can't be made without security."
On the other side of the world, foreign ministers from eight Arab countries and the PA, meeting in Amman, decided to give Sharon a chance to fulfill his peace-making pledges, provided he undertook to build on foundations already laid.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said afterwards the group had developed a "strategy" to deal with developments in Israel.
He declined to elaborate on the strategy, but insisted that "what was on the table [in previous negotiations] should remain on the table" under Israel's new leader.
Sharon says any agreements made between his predecessors and the PA which have not been approved by a parliamentary majority would be scrapped.
Both Barak and Clinton said last week that any proposals they had laid on the table in recent months were to be considered "null and void."
Shortly before leaving office, Clinton suggested a series of far-reaching compromises, calling on Israel to give up its sovereignty over important parts of Jerusalem, and the PA to temper its demands for refugees who left Israel during previous wars, and their descendants, to be repatriated.
Barak accepted the proposals as a basis for negotiation, but the PA turned them down.